Usually, like a lightning bolt.
The insight appears, and with it, understanding that serves you the rest of your life.
Much of Proverbs is like that for me. I became Christian in my twenties, at Harvard—a place where some pretty smart people congregate. Well, the wisdom in many Proverbs provided illuminating clarity that changed my perspective on almost all of life.
So too, with the insight I’ll share with you now. A decade ago I was in training to facilitate a series of powerful character development workshops, and a guest speaker had come to share with us.
His name was John and he called it the “Universal Human Paradigm.”
It has changed my life, my coaching, and the leadership of hundreds of pastors I’ve had the privilege to equip since then.
He called it “Universal” because it applies to everyone, everywhere. “Human” because it is the way human beings behave. And “Paradigm” because it is a worldview, an orientation, a way of interpreting and operating in the world.
Immediately, I discredited his statement as preposterous: “Look, I don’t know everything, but I studied human ontology in seminary and human beings are not machines! We are made in the image of God … and we are free to choose all our choices all the time! Who does this guy think he is, anyway, and what are his credentials?? Resistance machines—BAH!!” I scoffed.
“Here’s how it works”, John continued, too nonchalantly for such a controversial statement. “When life looks the way we prefer, we engage it. We embrace it; give ourselves to it. We participate. We play… Don’t we?”
“Ummm, yup. I can see that” I thought. “In fact, when life looks good, I don’t even think about myself or my participation. I’m just immersed in it!
Again, I thought: “That’s not true! I do not withhold my participation when I don’t like life! I jump right in and fix it! Solve it! I address what’s wrong with it! That’s what I do!!!” I assured myself.
Coaching distinctions #64.doc
In my coaching practice it’s common to address situations where a leader’s decision impacts people in less than desirable ways. We know the higher up you are in an organization, the more challenging the problems that land in your lap.
Senior Pastors of large congregations spend much of their time dealing with very complex situations. And, when they do, no matter how many or how clear headed your advisors are, it will fall to you to make the most difficult decisions. And, the nature of leadership is that several will be upset with almost any decision you make.
Interesting that the Greek word “crisis” means “to decide”.
When leaders decide, they and others are impacted, and the impact—as we’ve said—is not always positive. This is why it is so detrimental to pastor your congregation as an appeaser, a consensus-builder, a “lets all go happily together” guy. The only way to please the majority is to avoid the “crisis” that every decision brings. And that, of course, is not to decide at all.
In the absence of clear, courageous leaders making painful but principled decisions, debtor nations keep amassing ever more enormous deficits and the ECB creates worth-less Euros in a vain attempt to forestall the collapse of that teetering house of cards.
In 2009 a CNBC study revealed that of the world’s top twenty debtor nations seventeen are European.
To avoid the “crisis” of making important, necessary, and difficult decisions now, we can create an impact in the future many times worse.
How much of the current disconnect between the Church and the society she was given by God to rescue and resuscitate is the result of pastors who, for decades, were unwilling to upset parishioners committed to the minister-to-me status quo? As congregations removed themselves from helping in the communities where God placed them as salt and light, those communities have continued to struggle in the dark.
Whatever our intentions, we get to address the impact of our decisions—including those decisions not to decide.
If immersing yourself in work—because the mortgage crisis reduced your family’s only asset to a liability—has produced isolation and distance in your marriage, there’s no point defending yourself. Own your impact and give yourself to your spouse with the abandon you once promised.
If you’re “sideways” with one of your siblings over different views of how to care for aging parents, it does no good to keep asserting the “rightness” of your position. Just get off it and reach for your sibling in love.
Today, begin having the impact you’ve always wanted.
Coaching distinctions #60.doc
Coaching pastors in the development of their leadership, it is important to distinguish between the leader’s intention and her impact. Much of the time, my clients’ intentions are good…or, neutral.
Yet their impact is sometimes far from either.
This creates an important opening for some catalytic coaching.
Possibly originating with Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment, the concept burst into prominence in 1936 in an article by sociologist Robert Merton. The general notion is this: in a complex system, any effort to engineer a beneficial outcome can be thwarted by the emergence of unanticipated and often undesirable effects.
In other words: impact, not intention.
Leaders are influencers. There’s no leadership apart from influencing others.
And, leaders—no matter how highly skilled—at times create an impact other than what they intend.
As a leader it is imperative to manage your impact, regardless of the nobility of your intention.
Every married person, no doubt, has conjured up a plan to bless their mate, only to have it “blow up” … producing a very undesirable result.
About 15 months into our hand-to-mouth existence as a newly married couple, I though we’d finally saved enough money to take our first vacation.
Thinking it would “bless” our wives if Rich and I handled all the details, we did.
We chose the destination: the seaside community of Marblehead, Mass, the means of transportation: 38 hours in a two-door Buick [far too cramped for two couples and two babies], lodgings along the way: relatives and friends (to conserve our cash), and our ultimate destination: a roadside motel that stunk of mildew and the last guests, who typically stayed only a few hours at a time.
The trip was a disaster—and Annie endured, dreading every minute of it!
Any woman reading will have already exclaimed: “Kirk, what were you thinking??!!!”
And, my answer illustrates the importance of this distinction. See, my intentions—while wrongheaded, seemed innocent enough to me. And, I defended myself for weeks on that basis.
But, the undeniable reality is that I overlooked, frustrated, devalued, hurt, and dishonored Annie.
THAT’s my impact.
Until I address my impact, own it, and make amends for it, there’s no movement toward reconciliation.
Intentions are irrelevant.
It’s my impact I must respond to.
Coaching distinctions #59.doc
This is not to suggest that you aren’t busy. No, ministers are among those who can be overwhelmingly active and profoundly unproductive at the same time.
Postured to bunt, you desperately drive from hospital room to committee meeting, from one religious function to the next.
Are lives changing? Can’t tell.
Are those outside the Church coming toward Jesus via the loving example of your members? No way to know.
Your week is jammed with your best attempts to anticipate or respond to the complaints and requests of church members who mistakenly believe that you exist to serve them.
Most of what you do to soothe, comfort, and appease them does just the opposite. It keeps them infantilized.
Study the way Jesus interacted with His followers.
You’ll see that he constantly challenged them to trust God on their own. To experience God’s faithfulness for themselves. Unlike you, Jesus kept putting his disciples into harm’s way! The way your local police and fire academies put perfectly good people in peril for the sake of those they will rescue one day.
See, you and they have forgotten that God has given ministers to equip the people to do the work of Christ’s ministry [Ephesians 4:11] …so that they actually mature. I don’t see a lot of either happening in the lives of most church-goers these days.
To what degree do you challenge your people?
Do you press them to examine and repent of their immaturity, entitlement, and commitments to comfort?
Does your preaching regularly unsettle them?
Do you raise many more questions than you answer?
I don’t see how Christianity can be a part-time pursuit. Can you?
How is it that couples can live together, unmarried, and worship as if the were? How can we cheat on our taxes and pray as if God doesn’t know? How can we hold unforgiveness toward others and not think it undermines our prayers?
When you live “squared off to bunt”, pastor, your parishioners will follow suit. Could society’s sudden pursuit of much that’s contrary to God’s Word be the result of a Church that’s “squared off to bunt” so much of the time?
In 1988, an injured and aging Kirk Gibson hobbled to the plate for the L.A. Dodgers. Though his legs could barely carry him around the base path, he took a mighty cut at the ball…
and made history.
You can, too.
Coaching Distinctions #53
I was in Memphis one snowy morning recently. A CRM teammate we affectionately call “Hound Doggie” and I were designing curriculum for the upcoming reFOCUS:Atlanta conference when his cell phone rang.
I tried to decipher what had happened.
“Hey Kirkie, I’m gonna have to run home for a little bit. Our house was broken into; a lot of stuff is missing. Be back soon as I can.” Matt was as calm with me as he was with Jen.
In a few hours he’d filed a police report, met his insurance guy, arranged for his family to spend a few nights at the in-laws. And he was back—fully back—writing content for the Leading Change track, where we support pastors to be leaders of change by being leaders in change.
This recession has been tough on churches. Giving is down—way down. Many have reduced staff. Attendance has declined and so has vitality and optimism. While there are many exceptions, this is a decades-long trend across the Church in America.
Congregations often blame to pastor. Yet, rarely is any pastor good enough to grow a church where there’s an embittered, conflicted congregation. And, few pastors are bad enough to run people off when a congregation is vibrant and loving, passionately pursuing Christ.
Still, many pastors live discouraged as if they are responsible for their churches’ decline. Questioning herself, she pulls back from leading boldly. Fearing the firestorm of criticism, he “softens” his sermons, muting his own voice—and the Word of God through him. Rather than take on that manipulative, gossiping leader she placates, hoping something will change.
Squared off to bunt.
A Barna survey found the #1 concern among Christians is a “lack of leadership”. And the #1 need of leaders is courage.
Courage comes from the French word “kor” which means “heart”. I suggest that to live courageously is to live with your whole heart. Your heart engaged, invested, vulnerable, at risk.
Defending himself weakly before the Sanhedrin. Negotiating with Pilate. A few rote prayers in Gethsemane.
No great struggle.
No great sweat.
No great victory.
Coaching distinctions #52.doc
I love the movie Taken in the way Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson’s character) keeps giving himself to recover his daughter, who’s been kidnapped. When Kim’s parents learn of her abduction, their responses illustrate, the distinction: Who you are—especially in the midst of crisis and difficulty—is a product of the way you’ve trained yourself all your life long.
Neeson’s Mills is clear-headed, studying his daughter’s room for clues to her disappearance. He is determined and he is in motion … the product of his extensive training as a CIA operative.
Both of Kim’s parents had been in training—all their lives—for a crisis such as this.
So have you.
It was Father’s Day 2001. Driving from church to lunch, traffic was snarled. Creeping along we eventually came upon the source: multiple police cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck situated diagonally to keep the public from being able to view a particularly grizzly scene.
It was my daughter’s car!!
In crises, people often say: “NOTHING could have prepared me for what happened!”
Reality is, I had been preparing myself all my life for that morning. We were privileged to see God’s merciful intervention in what should have been a double decapitation. Both kids walked away shaken, but unhurt.
Not every family crisis has resolved as swiftly and miraculously as that one. Each catastrophe—and the many mundane opportunities to trust God in between—has been preparation. Every relationship breakdown has provided opportunities to examine my reactivity and vulnerabilities, to pursue repentance, and grow in Christ-likeness.
So with you.
Ever wonder how Jesus carried on—through Judas’ betrayal, the isolation and agony in Gethsemane, the beatings and the travesty that was his trial? After all that, with spikes through hands and feet, his own weight suffocating him, he forgave those who crucified him, made provision for his mother’s care, and ministered to the believing thief on the cross next to him.
“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” [Hebrews 5:8 NLT] Like Jesus, you and I can learn how to live great, God-honoring lives by the ways we train ourselves while in the midst of suffering.
It is possible, even for a “career bunter” to learn to crush the baseball.
Go hire a coach and reacquaint yourself with the batting cage.
Coaching distinctions #51.doc
In many quarters of the Church, the contemporary understanding is that Christianity is lived in the passive voice. Wikipedia says: “the passive voice denotes the recipient of the action (the patient) rather than the performer (the agent).”
The assumption is that the Christ-follower empties herself of all ambition and self-determination and simply waits, patiently, for God to move gloriously upon her life.
Problem is, it’s not biblical. It’s Buddhism.
How much ‘straining’ and ‘pressing on’ do you see in the Church today?
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door...” [Lk 13:24 NIV] In the Greek “make every effort” is agonizomai. Sounds a lot like “agonize” doesn’t it?
Consider Mt 11:12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven has been taken by storm and eager men are forcing their way into it.” [Philips New Testament]
Are these texts familiar to you?
The assumption that Christianity is lived in passive reflection—and our preoccupation with what we’re against—may have contributed mightily to the historic decline in Christian adherence in the West.
Especially among those under 35.
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who … if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
How well Terry Roosevelt’s words describe the noble and rigorous Christian life!
Around the US, pastors are breaking out of the “please-the-parishioner” mold, and are leading members into their cities, daring valiantly to minister regularly and unconditionally to those outside. Though they make mistakes, the sincerity of their motive procures a response of surprise and gratitude from those outside… and eventually, an openness to the claims of Christ.
And, in their churches some oppose and criticize, hoping to undermine these risky and selfless ministry endeavors.
Cold and timid souls.
Coaching distinctions #47.doc
You don’t hear much about one’s will in preaching these days. There’s plenty about God’s love, God’s mercy, and how God thinks each of us is so very wonderful. There’s lots about our allowing God to do this or that— be the center, be in charge, be on the throne, take my life, let it be this or that for Thee.
Listening to all of this, it’s easy to get the idea that the Christian life is lived passively. The inference is that you just sit and wait, yielded and surrendered until God decides to act upon your life … then suddenly, you do great things for God.
In my observation, people pretty much do what they’ve trained themselves to do. If you’ve trained yourself to live your faith passively, you’re not likely to spring into action when God makes an opening that requires fast obedience and involves risk.
When we sing “Lord take my life and let it be fully pleasing unto thee” I imagine God asking us: “Well, what do you want?
Do you want your life to please God?
Then, tell your boyfriend you’ll sleep with him when he marries you. Not again ‘till then.
Insist that your employer pays you “above the table”.
Gather some friends and help someone who’s needy. Keep doing it until they ask you why.
Each is an action.
It requires your will to do it.
To drift through the years, living an indistinctive life also takes your will. The will to live like everyone else.
Your stuff is paramount.
All this, Martin Buber calls our “little will”. He says it’s “ruled by things and drives”. Like our emotions and preferences. The little will never accomplishes anything great.
And, in the US in this hour, so pitifully little seems to be getting done that honors Christ and blesses those outside the Church, that we’d be wise to engage our “great wills” and get after it.
If not, I fear Christianity could be within a few decades of extinction.
Recently I heard an interview with the founder of a Freedom from Religion group. Their purpose is to educate the United States in “nontheism” –ridding society of all worship. He relished the amazing progress of their cause in the US and points to Scandinavia where he said fewer than 4% have any religious faith.
A secular utopia.
You can bet this man’s will is fully engaged in its pursuit.
Coaching distinctions #46.doc
In I and Thou Martin Buber writes of the freedom each of us has to pursue our destiny.
If you’re paying attention, the longer you live the better you understand the unique contribution you are. I say, “if you’re paying attention” because God is communicating. Those endeavors where you’ve had success, failure, frustration, satisfaction, the aspirations that ignite your passion, the injustices that make your blood boil, the people you’re drawn to, and those you find repellant. All these point to the unique ways you get to contribute to advance God’s agenda.
Jesus did it pretty well. “He did good and healed all who were oppressed…”.
So, do good.
Just start there. Do good, lots and lots of good. If you’re not sure what constitutes “good”, avoid the fringes and lock-in to what almost every moral person will agree is good.
In the war between your great will and little will, how do you determine which wins?
The one you feed.
So, feed your great will. Give yourself permission to dream. Big, huge, God-honoring dreams.
Imagine that your life’s been set up. That God’s been preparing you to impact people in clearly beneficial ways. Consider this: you live where you do, have the occupation you’re in, and are connected to the people you are because God set it up this way. It’s all been set up for you to bring good to. Your unique brand of good.
Ephesians 2:10 calls them “good works”. You are God’s masterpiece, God’s “poema”, created in Christ Jesus to do good works that God prepared in advance for you. For this to be true, it’s not just the “works” that’ve been prepared.
You have, too.
All your life, God’s been shaping, crafting, honing, and refining the masterpiece God calls ‘you’. And, God’s placed you in a setting that needs the good you bring.
Watch some people and you might think God’s done all this just so they can be enslaved by their puny, obnoxious, comfort-obsessed, self-serving ‘little will’.
So, let’s experiment. For the next month, live as if you’ve been prepared to bring good to those within reach. Try “doing good and healing all who are oppressed…”
Drop the lawsuit.
Quit stonewalling your mom.
Forgive the jerk who betrayed you.
Spend a couple hours with that lonely person you barely know.
Offer to pray for the next sick person you see… and five more after that.
Get a freakin’ job and quit filching off your family members.
Stop feeding your ‘little will’ and its insatiable entitlements.
Then, in a month, decide if you want to ‘re-up’.
I bet you will.
Coaching distinctions #45.doc
We’re examining destiny. You have one. Waiting for you. As Buber says, you must pursue it with your whole being, not knowing where it waits. You have a ‘great will’ that wants to live a noble, heroic, God-honoring, and history-impacting life.
And, you have a ‘little will’ that above all desires to:
Be in control.
These motivations I call “The Formidable Four”.
They show up everywhere.
They undermine a pastors’ resolve to lead clearly, consistently, and courageously. They invite congregations to focus inwardly, even while the community—where they’ve been placed as God’s provision—drifts further from Christ. They motivate elders to gesture at change rather than do the hard work of maturing disciples who bear fruit as a way of life.
In my life, the “little will” dissuades me from initiating conversations about financial support for the ministry to which I’m called. It presses me to downplay the urgency to enroll pastors in new reFocusing Networks, when my momentum begins to wane. It cautions me to play safe in coaching, rather than offend a client by illuminating a character flaw that is undercutting her leadership. And after an unusually intense week (like last week), it tempts me to blow off writing this blog!
Buber’s ‘great will’ and ‘little will’ wrestle within us.
Save or spend.
Walk or take the car.
Stand up for what you know is right or compromise to keep peace.
Pander to the preferences of your congregation or lead them to serve others selflessly.
Develop the character of around you or settle for being liked.
We see the conflict between great and little will played out in US politics.
While campaigning, candidates’ towering rhetoric calls to our ‘great will’.
It extols the virtue of selflessness, challenging us to forfeit our petty comforts in the short run to establish or protect or defend something noble and honorable and necessary and good for the generations that follow. It speaks of great accomplishments and great sacrifice and uniting for the benefit of the nation.
Then, post-election, the ‘little will’ takes over.
Its priority is whatever will please the most people now. Minimize pain, discomfort, and anxiety immediately—no matter how it infantilizes the population, rips apart our social fabric, and devastates those who’ll inherit the mess.
This blog is not about politics.
It’s about you.
Which will wins?
Coaching distinctions #44.doc